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Steven George Harper v. Commissioner of Social Security

March 30, 2012

STEVEN GEORGE HARPER,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Craig M. Kellison United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, who is proceeding with retained counsel, brings this action for judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Pursuant to the written consent of all parties, this case is before the undersigned as the presiding judge for all purposes, including entry of final judgment. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Pending before the court are plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 24) and defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment (Doc. 28).

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff applied for social security benefits on June 18, 2008. In the application, plaintiff claims that disability began on March 12, 2008. Plaintiff claims that disability is caused by a combination of ". . .severe L5-S1 foraminal stenosis, moderate left-sided L5-S1 foraminal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, obesity, sleep apnea, and bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome." Plaintiff claims these impairments give rise to ". . .debilitating symptoms including chronic pain, lift/carry limitations, sit/stand/walk limitations, manipulative limitations, difficulty sleeping at night, daytime somnolence, and the need for day time naps." Plaintiff's claim was initially denied. Following denial of reconsideration, plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, which was held on December 1, 2009, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") L. Kalei Fong. In an April 21, 2010, decision, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff is not disabled based on the following relevant findings:

1. The claimant has the following severe impairments: lumbar degenerative disc disease, sleep apnea, left knee bursitis, left shoulder impingement, and mild bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome;

2. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the impairments listed in the regulations;

3. The claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work; specifically, the claimant can lift or carry 20 pounds occasionally, 10 pounds frequently; stand, walk, and sit (with normal breaks) about 6 hours in an 8-hour work day; his ability to push or pull is unlimited in the lower extremities and he is able to climb (but no ladders, ropes, or scaffolds); he can also balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl on an occasional basis; he is limited to occasional overhead reaching with the left upper extremity and he can occasionally perform gross and fine manipulation with both hands; he has no other manipulative, visual, communicative, or environmental limitations; and

4. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, residual functional capacity, and vocational expert testimony, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform.

After the Appeals Council declined review on August 17, 2010, this appeal followed.

II. SUMMARY OF THE EVIDENCE

The certified administrative record ("CAR") contains the following relevant evidence, summarized chronologically below:*fn1

July 26, 2008 -- Agency examining doctor Kenneth Johnson, M.D., reported on a comprehensive orthopedic evaluation. Plaintiff listed low back pain, bilateral hand pain, left neck and shoulder pain, and left knee pain as his chief complaints. Dr. Johnson reported the following history:

The claimant is a 48-year-old white male, who was employed in the roofing business for over 20 years. He presented with multiple complaints, as noted above, from prolonged work activities and other injuries. The claimant stated that he continued in the roofing business until March 11th [2008]. His symptoms have precluded continued work.

The doctor noted that, despite plaintiff's pain symptoms, "the claimant is still independent with mobility, self care, and activities of daily living, without an assistive device or need for durable medical equipment." At the time of the evaluation, plaintiff's only medication was over-the-counter Tylenol. Plaintiff was taking no prescription medication for any condition. Following an objective evaluation, Dr. Johnson provided the following functional assessment:

The claimant can be expected to stand and walk for at least six hours during an eight-hour workday, with postural adjustments needed for the back and knee.

The claimant can be expected to sit without restrictions, with postural adjustments needed for the back and knee.

The claimant is safe to ambulate without an assistive device.

The claimant can lift and carry 10 pounds or less frequently and 20 to 25 pounds occasionally. The claimant should be able to lift 50 pounds and 100 pounds occasionally without carrying.

The claimant can perform occasional bending, stooping, and crouching. The claimant can perform occasional reaching, handling, ...


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